Friday, November 9, 2012

Reads into Reels: Timeline

Chris is a twenty-something guy with the hots for Kate, an archaeology student who is studying under Chris's dad, The Professor. But smitten as she is by the world of medieval France, Kate won't give Chris the time of day. Fortunately, The Professor has gotten himself lost, via time machine, in medieval France, and the Amoral Corporation responsible for this has decided to send in a bunch of archaeology students to rescue him, which will give Chris and Kate some bonding time. Sure, they're just kids; they know nothing about self defense, they haven't been inoculated for anything, and they apparently know nothing about the culture they're going into except for the fact that once upon a time, Evil British guys hung a young woman from a castle under siege, and it so enraged the French army that they captured the castle in one night -- but the corporation has decided to send them in instead of security goons, because they're at least aware that the medieval world is marginally different from the modern world and won't spend their time wondering where all the cars are. 

Unfortunately for the students, not only do they transport into time right over water, they also appear right in the middle of a chase scene. Some Evil British fellows on horseback are pursuing a young French woman, and although she gets away, the aforementioned Evil Brits decide a bunch of wet young people dressed in generic-but-clean medieval clothes will do nicely. When the students are presented to the Evil Brits' lord,  Oliver, they introduce themselves as Scottish.  Now, if *I* were to be transported into the court of a medieval English lord during the hundred years war, when England fought against France and its chronic ally Scotland, I would not say to the lord, "I am a Scot".  This, to me, would be like infiltrating the Taliban and pretending to be Israeli.  But I'm just a lowly history student. Perhaps archaeology students possess more wisdom, wisdom that can make full use of being imprisoned in a town that will be set ablaze by an angry French army within a few hours' time.  

In present course, the kids escape through a hole in the roof, though it does them little good since the Evil Brits find out quickly enough and the Chase Scene continues until the end of the movie. The movie is in fact one great long Chase Scene,  with occasional breaks for speeches and war.  The chase scene could be set anywhere, and that's the great problem with this adaption of Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, because the novel was a unique blend of history and science fiction, but the movie is generic. In the novel, the medieval world itself presented the challenge that characters had to contend with. They had to grapple with the fact that modern English and modern French would be mutually unintelligible to the medieval forms and dialects of these languages:  social mores were an obstacle that had to be navigated, as Chris learned in the novel when he accidentally accepted a challenge to a duel by picking up a laid-down glove.  Here, the kids might as well as had invaded a Renaissance fair. 

I watched this movie because I wanted something medieval, and because I'd read the book. In retrospect I'm glad I read the book before watching the movie, because I probably would not have read a book with a plot I thought to be as irrelevant as this.  The movie's technical setup establishes that while the Amoral Corporation was trying to figure out teleportation, their machine connected to a Wormhole that sent everything from the machine into 1357 France.  Part of the reason the corporation sent the professor and the kids into the past was so that they could figure out why this was the case. This is immediately forgotten by everyone involved.  The movie has exactly one interesting character, Andre Marek, who is portrayed by the film's salvation, Gerard Butler. Butler, who also played King Leonidas in 300, appears in Timeline's every scene of worth, starting from an early one in which a passionate Marek attempts convey the value of studying history to Chris.

The presence of two other actors is a highlight for me: Billy Connelly, who played Uncle Monty in A Series of Unfortunate Events, is a professor here, rather like Monty except that his penchant is for medieval history instead of snakes, and David Thewlis, who is the project head for the Amoral Corporation. You may know him as Professor Lupin. Predictably, the movie is poor history: the opposing armies each wear uniforms, red for the villainous English and blue for the valiant French. Each speaks modern English or French, with the only barrier to communication being that a French woman doesn't understand Marek's euphemisms when he attempts to chat her up. "Am I seeing anyone? I see you..."

Timeline doesn't do justice to the book, and it's not a particularly good movie by itself, but if you're really in the mood for swords and bows, it should prove entertaining, especially seeing as it features Gerard Butler, who I became a fan of while watching it. You might be better off with Men in Tights, however, which has as much historical integrity and much better acting.


  1. Oh, that was *such* a bad film! [rotflmao]

  2. I first saw the movie and then started to read the book, but it just didn't suck me in.

    And as for the movie: I watched it more or less for the Walker guy than anything else ^^


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